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Evidence sufficient to establish grounds for TPR, and court exercised discretion ordering termination

Barron County DH & HS v. J.W., 2023AP60, District 3, 6/13/23 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

J.W. (“Jill”) challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to prove continuing CHIPS grounds for terminating her parental rights and the circuit court’s exercise of discretion in terminating her rights at the disposition hearing. Neither challenge succeeds.

Any sufficiency claims is, of course, fact specific, and there’s a daunting standard of review that looks for any credible evidence to sustain the verdict. St. Croix County DH & HS v. Matthew D., 2016 WI 35, ¶29, 368 Wis. 2d 170, 880 N.W.2d 107. The nine witnesses the County called to support its continuing CHIPS allegation provided “ample evidence” to find the elements of that ground. (¶¶10-12, 15-17). Jill argues the evidence of her parenting before the CHIPS order and her recent employment, counseling, and residency at the time of trial. All fine and good, but irrelevant to whether the County’s evidence proved the elements, because even if the evidence gives rise to more than one reasonable inference, the court of appeals accepts the particular inference reached by the jury. Morden v. Continental AG, 2000 WI 51, ¶39, 235 Wis. 2d 325, 611 N.W.2d 659. (¶¶13-14, 18).

As for the decision to terminate, the erroneous exercise of discretion standard of review is as daunting as the sufficiency standard. Here, the circuit court considered and relied on the testimony of Jill’s social worker as to the statutory dispositional factors, § 48.426(3), and weighed the factors appropriately. By examining the relevant facts, applying the proper standard of law, and using a demonstrated rational process reached a conclusion that a reasonable judge could reach, the court properly exercised its discretion. (¶¶19-24).


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